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General Colin Powell is widely acknowledged as an excellent military and political leader. He invokes a rule around decision-making where P = 40-70. P is the probability of success and 40-70 the percentage of information required to make a decision.
Where a leader has less than 40% of information, his rule says they are taking undue risk. But when they’ve reached that sweet spot between 40 and 70 percent, they need to act. Using the information they ‘know’ and following their intuition they must make their decision. This is where the most effective leaders operate. It’s not just about the facts, but also about harnessing our gut instinct.
Waiting until there is more data is too slow – both in a military context and also a fast-moving, complex and uncertain business landscape. We need to be innovative and agile. We have to empower and trust our intuition as never before.
As acclaimed actor, academic and scientist Alan Alda states:
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.
Intuition refers to the ability to know something without the involvement of conscious reasoning.
In organisations, rational thinking and analysis have been the primary drivers of setting strategy and making business calls. Going on an intuition-based or ‘gut call’ is seen as high risk – for both the business and the plucky executive.
Failure based on analysis can be defended, but, in many cultures, intuition-based calls leave individuals exposed. We all have the capacity to intuit and connect the intelligence of our hearts and guts. If we didn’t, the very notion of intuition would be hard to understand – but it’s not. We all experience feelings and ‘knowing’ that we can’t empirically explain.
Having the courage to tap into this resource is key. Leaders who give themselves and others permission to connect with their intuition are better-positioned to deal with the uncertainty of our VUCA world. Intuitive leaders are good at recognising patterns and joining the dots. By treating their intuition as an equally valid input as data or logic, they are able to lead more confidently – even when they don’t know the final destination (which is often the situation today).
Most of us have had the sensation of arriving home after a drive with no recollection of the journey. Subconsciously, we will have made thousands of small decisions to do with positioning the car, starting, stopping and steering. Similarly, musicians are able to play whilst chatting or unthinkingly join in playing their part in a new song. In the background, we are constantly making decisions without being aware of them.
Despite multiple neuroscience studies that have proved that decisions are not purely the domain of the rational mind, in organisations we are loathe to trust what we can not ‘see’. The following quote by Albert Einstein, whilst disputed, makes the point wonderfully:
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.
In our increasingly unpredictable world, leaders must learn to trust and take advantage of all available forms of information. As we saw with Colin Powell, he not only encourages leaders to utilise their intuition, he says not to do so (to wait for more complete information) is poor leadership. It’s too slow - and speed is a business and leadership imperative. It is no use being right, but late if the competition has got there before you!
Within the new field of neuro-gastroenterology, doctors are focusing on studying the gut, the brain and their interactions, mainly to better understand gastrointestinal disorders. This renewed interest in the gut – now called the second brain – is also giving us better information on how the nervous system and our 100 million gut neurons interact to produce the feelings of ‘knowing’ or ‘gut instinct’ that we all experience regularly.
This is showing up in the leadership world. Behavioural modellers and neuro-linguistic programming experts Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu have devised a new coaching methodology based on learning how to integrate all three neural networks, known as the ‘three brains’: head, heart and gut. At last, we are creating frameworks and organisational conversations that acknowledge and leverage all parts of our biology.
For too long, we have selected our leaders and based leadership decisions around our immensely powerful but incomplete conscious, rational brain. We’ve always known and felt other positive ‘forces’ in our intuition.
But these were labelled as unreliable, random or simply imagined. We now know that intuition is proven. As leaders we must now learn to add it to the balance of inputs that we need to succeed. In challenging times, it’s likely to be the difference.
Mark Hodgson comes from an international corporate leadership background. He is one of our i4 Partners and runs his own leadership practise. A natural disruptor, he helps executives and consultants to position themselves as leading influencers. He also volunteers as a Telephone Crisis Support worker for Lifeline.
Mark is an Executive Coach, keynote Speaker and the Author. His first book is: ‘Time to Shine: Adapting who you are and what you know to succeed in the ideas economy’.